Broncos receiver Wes Welker will have redemption on his mind Sunday after… (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images )
Although this is only the third postseason meeting between New England and Denver, it's the 15th time during the regular season or postseason that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been on opposite sides. The Patriots are 10-4 in those games, most of which came when Manning was playing for Indianapolis.
Brady and Manning have faced each other — inasmuch as quarterbacks face each other — twice in AFC championship games, with each winning once.
Bill Belichick and Brady have combined for 18 postseason victories, the most by any head coach-quarterback duo. And with 19 career postseason victories, Belichick is tied with Don Shula for the second-most in league history, one behind Tom Landry.
"Coach Belichick is the best coach that I've ever competed against," Manning said. "I think it's safe to say he'll go down as the greatest NFL coach of all time."
Asked to rank where he and Brady figure in the pantheon of great quarterbacks, Manning declined.
"I am not one that ever has the ranking of quarterbacks," he said. "I've been fortunate to play against some great quarterbacks — Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Steve Young, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning. The list goes on and on and on. I know rankings and lists are important to a lot of people. I have such great respect for all of them, and if you want to name anybody in any order on any list, that's fine. I'm just flattered to be in the conversation."
Nice of him to stick his ittle brother, Eli, in that mix.
Including the playoffs, New England has posted four consecutive victories against Denver.
These teams met Nov. 24 in Foxborough, Mass., when the Broncos blew a 24-point halftime lead on their way to a 34-31 loss in overtime. Brady threw for 344 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, two of them to receiver Julian Edelman. Stephen Gostkowski won it with a 31-yard field goal in the extra period.
The last time the teams played in Denver was Dec.¿18, 2011 — the Tim Tebow era for the Broncos — when the Patriots rolled to a 41-23 victory.
The first meeting between these teams was especially forgettable for Broncos receiver Wes Welker, who defected from New England after last season.
Not only was he limited to four catches for 31 yards, but also Welker was partly to blame for the pivotal play in overtime. A Patriots punt bounced inside Denver's 15-yard line, and returner Welker attempted to call off teammates instead of running up and making a fair catch. The ball bounced off Denver's Tony Carter, the Patriots recovered, and clinched the victory with a field goal.
Asked this week about that, and about facing his old team again, Welker didn't take the bait.
"We've moved on," he said. "That was the regular season. This is the postseason."
Denver's pass defense deteriorated significantly last Sunday when the Broncos lost cornerback Chris Harris to a torn knee ligament. The defense isn't the same with Quentin Jammer sliding over to the slot to replace Harris, and Brady is a master at finding his slot receiver. That's got to be a huge worry for Denver.
CBS color analyst Phil Simms on Belichick, an assistant coach for the New York Giants when Simms was there: "The thing that makes Bill so successful is that, in my eyes, it is truthfulness to his players. He tells them the truth. And it is raw, and it hurts. You've got to get used to that. But once you get used to it, it clarifies everything for you."
By the numbers
How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which is for the season (league rank in parentheses):
Category | NE | DEN
Points scored: 27.8 (3) | 37.9 (1)
Points given up: 21.1 (10) | 24.9 (22)
Pass offense: 255.4 (10) | 340.2 (1)
Rush offense: 129.1 (9) | 117.1 (15)
Pass defense: 239.0 (18) | 254.4 (27)
Rush defense: 134.1 (30) | 101.6 (7)
Sacks: 48 (5) | 41 (13)
Penalty yards: 39.1 (3) | 62.5 (27)
Turnovers: +9 (8) | 0 (16)
The Broncos were able to do as they pleased in the first half at New England, then let that win slip through their hands. Don't see Manning letting that happen again, considering as he hasn't lost to a team twice in the same season in six years. Brady will take advantage of Harris being out, but the Patriots don't have enough capable defenders to consistently get in Manning's face and cover his array of options. BRONCOS 28, PATRIOTS 24